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Misfit Heroes: A Prodigal Pilgrim

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He didn’t understand how God could love him, a sinner. He had lived his youth recklessly, ignoring God’s love and commands. He felt unworthy to be considered a child of such a holy Father, much less actually be used by Him, but that is exactly what happened. 

John Bunyan was a reckless and profane English youth who hang out with the wrong crowds, doing the wrong things, and trying to run as far from God as he could, but God kept pursuing him. He noted in his writings that he picked up the habit of swearing from his father and suffered from nightmares for much of his childhood. Bunyan joined the army at age 16 and spent three years in the service. He showed no desire to follow God, but instead was the ringleader of ungodly behavior in his garrison. After those three years, he returned home and followed in his father’s career, that of a traveling tinker. One day as he was out traveling, he passed a group of women who were discussing religious matters. He was so impressed by their conversation that he joined their church, the Bedford Free Meeting. 

Several years later, after much prompting, Bunyan was finally persuaded to start preaching, both to the congregation and to people in surrounding areas. In the years that followed, the English governmental situation changed and membership in any church other than the Church of England became illegal. Bunyan was soon arrested while preaching at a farm some distance from Bedford. He was tried and sentenced to three months in prison for holding illegal religious services. At the end of those three months he was told that he would be released if he agreed to attend the Anglican Church and stop holding illegal church services, but he refused. For the next 12 years, John Bunyan was imprisoned in the county jail, though there were rare times that he was allowed out, under the supervision of the authorities, and he would then attend his church and even occasionally preach. During this time he supported his family by making shoelaces. 

While in jail, he had access to a Bible, a book about early Christian martyrs, and writing materials. He wrote his first book, Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, and started work on Pilgrim’s Progress. At the end of his time in jail, the political situation changed again and he was chosen as the pastor of the Bedford Free Meeting before he was even released. When he was released in 1672, he was given a license by the government that allowed him to preach.

After his release, he spent much of his time writing and preaching, as well as traveling to other parts of England to preach to the multitudes there. Pilgrim’s Progress was published in 1678 and immediately became wildly popular. In later years he also wrote several other allegorical works including The Holy War, a profoundly impactful book that has since been adapted in the book The War For Mansoul. The rest of his life was spent much without incident, but due to England’s up and down political climate, he did spend 6 more months in prison for refusing to attend the Church of England. 

In 1688, while traveling for his duties as a pastor, Bunyan fell ill and died, but his legacy continues to this day. Countless people have found encouragement and strength in reading his books. There is something so incredibly timeless about Pilgrim’s Progress! We can all relate to the struggles that Christian endures on his way to the Celestial City and we all need the encouragement that there is something better up ahead, no matter how hard life is. If you have never read Pilgrim’s Progress, I suggest you go find yourself a copy and read it! I also highly suggest that you read The War For Mansoul. While Bunyan’s original work (The Holy War) is excruciatingly long, The War For Mansoul is much more manageable! You’ll never see life (or yourself) the same way after reading those books!

The lyrics in this song remind us all that God loves to use us, no matter what our mistakes and failures have been!


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